How Scouting was Saved in ’79

urlcroppedThere is a period in the history of the Boy Scouts of America that not many people like to talk about.

Some of you may have heard the story before; some of you may have lived through it. I think it is vitally important for all Scouters to know because of what it teaches us about Scouting and its place in the modern world.

It was the late 1960’s, and youth membership in the BSA began to decline. People weren’t quite sure why. Some suspected that the modern world was starting to outgrow the traditional framework of Scouting. Everyone agreed that we still needed a good youth organization… but maybe the stuff of the past didn’t really appeal to boys anymore.

So, in the spirit of the time, we set to work crafting an “Improved Scouting Program”. This was going to be a modern program that fit the needs of the modern boy. We went back to the drawing board and reworked advancement, leadership, and the entire Scouting program. Finally, it was ready to launch.

In 1972, the eighth edition of the Scout Handbook was released.

In this work (I have a copy of it sitting on my desk), ranks were reworked into Skill and Progress Awards which took the emphasis off traditional Scouting skills. As a matter of fact, you could even make it all the way to the “Eagle Progress Award” without camping!

Along with this dramatic program reboot, there was a huge organizational push to recruit new members. This was call Boypower ’76 and had started a few years earlier. The goal was to have one out of every three boys members of Scouting by 1976. Tons of effort and millions of dollars were invested into this program.

Everything was primed for significant growth. Everyone waited expectantly for the membership numbers to skyrocket. We had a new modern program and a new initiative – everything we needed!

We were devastated by the results.

Instead of rapid growth, a lot of Scouts left the program… I mean a lot! Between 1972 and 1978 the BSA lost over one third of its membership. The organization suffered too. We were plagued by scandals all up and down the chain. A massive amount of fraudulent “paper units” were created to falsely boost numbers. Instead of an acclaimed success, it was a massive failure! It was beginning to look like Scouting as we once knew it was dead.

However, this was not the case. With one hand still left on the helm, we pulled off an amazing course correction that saved Scouting for millions of young men. That hand on the helm was personified in one man – it was a veteran Scouter named William Hillcourt. He was the author of several Scout and Scoutmaster Handbooks in the past. For decades, he was the very popular author of a long-running Boys’ Life series. He was a personal friend of Baden-Powell and had dedicated his life to Scouting.

I’m not sure whether the BSA approached him or the other way around, but I do know he came out of retirement at 79 years old and offered a year of his life without pay to write a new Boy Scout Handbook.

In 1979, the ninth edition of the Boy Scout Handbook was published.

In this work (I also have a copy of it sitting on my desk), Hillcourt brought back all of the traditional Scouting skills that had been trimmed from the modern program. Camping, hiking, pioneering, and etc were made requirements for advancement again. Emphasis was again placed on the Patrol Method. And the spirit of rugged adventure and excitement that made boys love reading Hillcourt’s work was infused throughout the whole book.

To everyone’s surprise, membership loss ground to a halt. This dramatic reversal back to traditional Scouting stabilized the huge membership loss for over a decade. It is no exaggeration to say the William Hillcourt saved the Boy Scouts of America in ’79 and made traditional Scouting a reality for millions of boys.

I hope you’ve heard this story before, but in my experience, I’ve found that most haven’t. I only know it through Scouting’s volunteer historians who have kept the story alive on the internet. I first read about it when I was a Patrol Leader from a website that is no longer in existence. It inspired me and encouraged me, and I think it’s vital that all Scouters know this piece of our history.

If you agree, please take a moment to share this story with all Scouts and Scouters you know.

You can email the article, ‘like’ and ‘share’ on Facebook or other social media, and post it on forums or email lists. Every bit helps spread the history of Scouting. Most importantly, talk about it with Scouts and Scouters you know. Bring it up in conversation, around the campfire, or at a roundtable meeting.

Traditional Scouting is not dead and is just as vital to young men today as it was 100 years ago! Boys haven’t changed, our problems haven’t changed, and the Scouting framework that changed the lives of millions of young men can and will do so for millions more to come!

If you want to stay updated with new articles published here on ScoutingRediscovered, please take a minute to leave your email in the little box in the right-hand sidebar.

Thank you for reading!

Scout On!


References:, Wikipedia Article, Troop 97 Handbook History, Chart of BSA Membership Size, Wikipedia Article on Hillcourt


Traditional Scouting 101

Part 1 – Introduction

Part 2 – The Vision of the Scout

Part 3 – The Challenge of the Wilderness

Part 4 – Traditional Camp Programs

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37 Comments on "How Scouting was Saved in ’79"

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Frank Maynard

If you’d like to learn a bit more about “Green Bar” Bill, listen to Clarke Green’s Scoutmaster podcast # 73, “The Boy from Aarhus”. He talks about how he rescued Scouting in the late 1970s about 17 minutes in.


Would like to receive updates and news! Thanks!

MIke Walton (Settummanque)
There’s a bit more to this story. In addition to the re-write of the Boy Scout Handbook (as opposed to the “Scout Handbook”) the BSA and the Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) were working toward a merger of programs, similar to other nations. The new program would be called “Scouting/USA” and marketing and promotional materials were engineered before the merger would take place. This also hurt the Boy Scouts of America’s program significantly. The merger did not go through, because of the BSA’s unwillingness to divest itself from the chartered partnership concept which has worked so well in the… Read more »

I wouldn’t get overly excited about the Charter concept being truly important, much less critical, to BSA units. The Charter concept sounds good on paper, always has. What happens in practice is a whole different story for a huge percentage of BSA units, including more than some would like to admit that are Chartered by faith based organizations. The number of Charter Organizations which have little to no contact with the unit other than signing some paperwork when needed is more the norm these days than the exception.

Brownsea Double Two (or Brownsea 22) was a training program that was part of the All Out for Scouting campaign. From what I understand, this program was used to train SPLs the Scoutcraft that had been eliminated from the BSA program (and that older Scouts had missed during their Scouting tenure as a result) with the goal being that they were to take these skills back to their Troops to teach their fellow Scouts. I’d be interested in seeing you do an article on Brownsea Double Two if you can research it and find more information. I was fortunate enough… Read more »
Gary Hodgson

Hugh, I was SPL for our Brownsea Double 2 program in 1979 out in Orange County (CA) Council. I’d very much appreciate it if you could also email me the Syllabus… Gary Hodgson

Robert Landquist

Could you send me a copy of the syllabus please?

Gwyn James
A brilliant observation. Here in the UK sadly too slowly some are starting to realise that traditional is the way. People like Ray Mears ,who renamed back woodsmanship as Bushcraft, and indeed the adventurous image of Bear Gryhlls our chief scout are what boys love and indeed some girls. Sadly we have some who do not believe it and see it as heresy. It seems to me the modern ideas seem soft and as a result our beaver and cub sections have grown at the expense of the older sections as a result of the modernisation of programmes. Has American… Read more »
Marjanna Hulet
I did NOT know this, but the story is all too familiar. That is because my daughter, who has loved GIRL SCOUTS for years was turned off and disgusted by the EXACT SAME REFORMS happening in Girl Scouts. They’ve removed badges and instead focus on “Journeys” which focus a lot of energy on talking about things. Camping skills and outdoor prowess are gone, and the GS in our area are actually closing their camps and selling them. We were told that girls don’t want to do those things anymore, but GS membership numbers are crashing nationwide. And when our girls… Read more »
Absolutely! My daughter literally broke down in tears when the new badges were released because they are so lame and “cute.” GSUSA does not care one whit about older girls, as evidenced by selling camps and putting no money or resources into older-girl programs and units. Anything directed to older girls is done under the goal of “character” but done so without emphasizing methods and activities that would interest girls to achieve it. But then again, GSUSA is really all about the under-10 demographic. Think about it–what comes to mind when you hear “Boy Scout?” A young adult standing proudly… Read more »


While I am sorry for the disappointment your daughter had to experience over changes to the program, I can tell you that as a crew adviser nothing has help grow my crew as much as a lack of opportunities for young women to do what their brothers are doing in Boy Scouts.


We did start a Venturing crew for the girls, 2 of whom are going to Philmont next summer.

Wayne Unwin

One more book for “Must Reading” is “Aids to Scoutmastership” written by Sir Robert Baden Powell himself! In my 30+ years, whenever I have felt “Off course”, that book has taken me back to the roots of what we are doing! YIS, Queterjo (Old Tree)

kurt carlson
I was in the Scouting program from 1964 until about 69, attained the rank of Eagle a d participated in a number of council sponsored Jr. Leader rrainings. Scouting was the best thing that happened to me in my younger life. After 20 years of military service, and retirement I became a professional Scouter. What a difference. As a professional you don’t worry about programs what you are graded on are things like fund raising, youth and adult recruitment. Gone is the fun stuff. There is so much emphasis on recruitment that about Scouter career is placed in jeopardy if… Read more »
Karl Jensen

good story to pass on


GreenBar Bill did turn scouting around, it’s never been able to fully reclaim what was lost.

Mark Allen

It seems that the BSA did not learn its lesson. They have “modernized” again, leaving God and morality! I don’t think they will recover this time! Too many GOOD leaders have left in the last 2 years since the “modernization”!

Agreed. I just stepped down as Cubmaster for a inner city Pack I was leading. I started with three boys in 2010 and it slowly took a life of its own and grew to about fifty boys. It was the first Cub Scout Pack in the inner-city area of my city since 1977. It wasn’t my skills. It wasn’t the “program” nor was it the local council (they liked to send the photographers / press after the Pack really started to grow “touting” it as a major success; I always hated putting my Cubs on display like this). It was… Read more »
Warren wolf

i was a staffer on our council brownsea 22 course

I have met Bill several times

I chaperoned him for a day at the world jamboree
He ate lunch with my troop

In 1991 we visited at the subcamp where I worked

We corresponded over the years

I cherished his Christmas newsletters detailing his world travels each year

Warren Wolf

Nick Wimberley

Thank you for this item. I had the honor to meet Green Bar Bill at a Jamboree in N
E Georgia Council, leaving with his autograph on my copy of the “correct” handbook.

Paul Moore

In the Cushman Watt Scout Center in Los Angeles there is a huge portrait of Bill Hillcourt. When I went there as Scout Executive in 2008 I found it in a storeroom. My Eagle dinner program in 1964 was signed by Green Bar Bill and I knew we needed his likeness looking over us. Thanks for telling this great story!

Amando Dimitui

Thanks for sharing this wonderful story…I will share to all my friends in BSA all over the world…We tried to Create a Better World for all Scouts all over the world…

Unknowingly at the time, I lived through this. Scouting was being “urbanized” to be more appealing to boys in cities. During my Eagle board of review, the district rep asked me about it. I vaguely remember answering that there were some things I didn’t think were very good. He replied, “Don’t you think Scouting should keep up with the times?” During the next 7 years I finished college and spent 3 years in the Army in West Germany. I got involved in Scouting when I returned stateside. The prgram was swinging back by then. Turns out BP was right. You… Read more »
Faith Goldman

I had the pleasure of actually meeting Green Bar Bill Hillcourt at the 1989 Boy Scout Jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill VA. I purchased The Official Boy Scout Handbook at the trading post and stood in line for his autograph. In looking at the book this morning, it is, in fact, the Ninth Edition. There was a young man to his side who you gave the book to who drew 2 green bars on the title page and then gave the book to Bill who then signed his name. It was a great experience.

Scouting certainly needed a change in 1979. They found the last traditional guy to do the book. The thing to remember is that Scouting was not up to date in 1910. Camping and the outdoors were the “enemy” to many people,. What is relevant and modern is the timeless values, Remember the outdoor program is a character development tool with the rest of methods, not the sole aim of Scouting but not optional either. I called the changes “rat bite relevancy”. My time in Scouting during this period was as a young asst SM who mostly went to camp, which… Read more »
Richard Davidson

I was present thru the “ISP” and thought it was wrong and misdirected. Which it proved to be. The national leadership both volunteer and professional were a disaster. My friend “Green Bar Bill” saved the day again in spite of opposition from formal leadership. I’m sorry to say that we’re going through the same issues again–especially in Michigan with the total council reorganization into one council and the closing and future sale of council properties. Wake Up!!! I am a 55 year veteran Scouter.

Richard Davidson

Saw the comment regarding All Out For Scouting and Brownsea 2-2 which I served as Scoutmaster for. You should know that Green Bar Bill conducted a Wood Badge Course in 1995 in Franklin Ohio which was Brownsea 2-2 for adults!!! The idea being that the Adult and Boy leaders would have similar courses for scout skills and leadership. But guess what—National didn’t like the idea as they had decided to introduce the concepts of corporate business into Wood Badge which is the present concept.

Danny Douglas

Wow- to have been in that session. Oh well. I did mine at Gilwell, itself, after having extended my England assignment three times, in a large part to get to Gilwell for the big show. Now, when I hear “back to Gilwell” it really means something to me. I hope everyone gets a chance to go there someday. Besides Wood Badge week, I also acted as SM for the outdoor training program there, just a month prior to that. Its also a nice place for OA Conclaves.

Danny Douglas
AMEN. I was there, as a CUB IN 48-51, a Scout 51-59, leader from that point, right through this day. I often tell the story of the debacle, when Outing in Scouting became “the read a bus schedule” period of Scouting. We lost boys. We lost adults, and we lost a lot of respect. When wild Green Bar Bill came back, it was a joyous occasion. I still refer to the Junior leaders meetings; I say ‘GREEN BAR” and explain that to the boys, and adults. I remember the 50TH REUNION, THE 60th the 70th, and the 100TH of the… Read more »
I was a scout in the 60 the troop was only 9 kids the troop # was 1 .By the time I made EAGLE it was 1965 .Even in the navy I worked with scouts helping start a troop in Hawaii with navy kids . I came back into troop 1 as asst. scout master . I have always thought scouting was the best program for boys and girls .My son and daughter were both scouts., and received the highest awards. If my memory serves me right there were about 9or 10 EAGLES in troop 1 in the 30 years… Read more »
Diggy Dog

So, what you’re saying is that when BSA changes drastically in order to have a broader appeal, it backfires.

How’s the growth since May 2013?